The community of Williams mourns after the passing of Dr. Charles McCarl, who passed away peacefully at the age of 97 on Nov. 13.
McCarl retired from his practice on Nov. 21, 2011, after more than 60 years of serving the community of Williams.
According to Braden Schrader, McCarl’s grandson, when McCarl retired at age 90 he was one of the oldest practicing doctors in the United States.
Inspired to become a doctor by the man referred to as the Godfather of Fitness, McCarl started pursing medicine after high school.
“When I graduated from high school, (LaLanne) asked me what I was going to do now, and I said I didn’t know what I was going to do,” McCarl said in an interview in February 2011, shortly after Jack LaLanne’s death.
“And he said, ‘Well, I know what you are going to do – you are going to be a doctor,’” McCarl said.
McCarl’s daughter, Kathleen Schrader, said he met fitness, exercise and nutrition expert Jack LaLanne as a high school kid in Oakland when he walked into the third-floor gym owned by LaLanne in 1936.
“My dad really didn’t have the money to pay for a membership so Jack asked him if he owned a bike,” said Kathleen Schrader. “My dad said he did so Jack said if you give me your bike you can be a member for life. So dad gave him his bike and Jack turned it into the first ever stationary bike.”
This transaction turned into what McCarl’s family called a life-long friendship, continuing until LaLanne’s death at the age of 96 in 2011.
In the early years of their friendship, McCarl partnered with LaLanne in a strength and balancing act which they perfected on what was then Muscle Beach in Venice.
In a 2011 interview, McCarl said when the circuses would pass through town, all the acrobats would come out to the beach and learn new tricks that were being out there, and taught others what they were doing.
As part of the act, McCarl would sit on one of LaLanne’s hands while he was stretched out on his side on the ground. LaLanne would then stand up and hoist McCarl into the air, an image that has been famously captured in Life Magazine.
According to Kathleen Schrader, McCarl also competed and placed as runner up in the Mr. America bodybuilding competition in 1941.
McCarl earned his medical degree from the California College of Medicine during World War II. He completed his residency in Long Beach, and established his practice in North Hollywood.
There, he was the physician to some of the movie stars, including the chimpanzee Cheetah from the movie “Tarzan,” who came to McCarl’s attention because area vets did not properly diagnose the chimp’s bronchitis.
“While he was practicing in North Hollywood a chimpanzee was brought in that needed medical attention,” said Kathleen Schrader. “At first my father was very reluctant for fear that he might get bit. The chimpanzee was fully clothed and he was assured that he would be very cooperative. The owners told the chimp to pull down his pants which he did on command and my father gave him a shot in his rear end.”
According to Kathleen Schrader, her father was later contacted and told that he had saved Cheeta’s life.
Braden Schrader said McCarl came to Williams in 1949 to fill in for a physician who had been called away on a family matter but that doctor never came back, and McCarl never left.
“He was the doctor that carried his little black bag and made house calls at all times of the night,” said Kathleen Schrader.
“He delivered babies and did house calls until the 80s so he delivered a large portion of the town,” said Braden Schrader.
According to archives, McCarl helped establish Valley West Convalescent Hospital in 1965 and helped form the Kiwanis Club in Williams in 1952, to which he was a long time member. The same year he started working with the Williams High sports programs and walked the sidelines well into his retirement as the acting team physician for more than 60 years.
In October 2010, the stadium at Williams Junior Senior High School was dedicated in his name.
McCarl was also the director of the Colusa Regional Medical Center clinics in Williams and Arbuckle and had extended his practice to serve not only Colusa County but parts of Glenn County as well.
McCarl had been honored by several service groups, the city and medical departments – including a lifetime achievement award given to him by the Yuba-Sutter-Colusa Medical Society.
The Williams Fire Department said in a statement made on Facebook last week, “Our flags are flying half staff in honor of long time Member of Williams fire he did so much for our department and our community. He was an amazing man and will truly be missed by all that knew him. R.I.P Doc.”
Louis Cairo’s posted a photo of McCarl’s favorite table, set with a cocktail, Louis bread and antipasto, along with the statement, “He was a beloved customer of Louis Cairo’s and we would like to extend our deepest sympathy, thoughts and prayers to his wife Sue, his children, his grand and great grandchildren as well as our community for the loss of this great man.”
A celebration of life will be held today (Nov. 20) at the Granzella’s Banquet Hall, located at 457 Seventh Street in Williams, starting at 3 p.m. Seems like a fitting place to remember and say goodbye, since the banquet hall was the very spot where McCarl’s first opened his first office so many years ago.